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CIA Exam Tips and Study Strategy

We discuss how you can prepare, and we’ll provide some key exam-day tips to help you pass the CIA exam.

The CIA exam is a difficult exam. Only around 40% of candidates who sit for any part of the CIA exam will pass it. That said, you shouldn’t let the difficulty of the exam stop you from becoming a certified internal auditor.

CIA exam study tips

These CIA study strategies are essential no matter what stage of your studies you’re in or what topics you’re studying.

Practice using exam-emulating software

Being comfortable with the look and feel of the CIA exam will help relieve exam day stress. Additionally, knowing how the exam interface works will keep you from wasting valuable time when you sit for the exam.

Review material after you’ve “completed” it

The CIA exam is not an exam to cram for. You’ll need to really understand the topics in order to pass, and the best way to do that is to routinely review topics as you progress through your studies. This will take a topic from memorized to mastered and ensure that you have no trouble remembering material on exam day.

Stick to your study schedule

Be sure to regularly check in on your study progress and compare it to your study plan. If you’re falling behind, try to figure out why that is and adjust your plan accordingly. It isn’t a problem to adjust your schedule to account for needing longer to learn a tricky topic or having less time to study in a week than you’d thought.

The most important part is that you keep a plan and hold yourself to it. It is much better to adjust your plan than it is to abandon it completely.

Take short breaks during your study sessions

Sitting down for 8 hours of studying is demanding, and it doesn’t work all that well long term. It is much better to break that studying up into more manageable portions throughout your day. Study for an hour, take a short break (15-30 minutes), and then take a quiz on the topic you were studying. Then go back to another hour of study/review.

Breaking your studies into two-hour blocks will actually improve your long-term memory of topics. So even if you need to fit 8 hours of studies into one day, be sure to take a break every few hours.

Reward yourself as you complete benchmarks

Give yourself a reward as you meet milestones in your studies. Whether it’s a special meal or a night out, giving yourself small rewards as you complete your studies will help keep you motivated. Write down your rewards on your study calendar so you have something to look forward to.

Of course, passing an exam part is also a milestone, and a special reward should be considered for that accomplishment. Give yourself a well deserved, but small, study break before starting your next part. Using the thrill of passing one exam to motivate you to pass the next will help you get ahead in your studies!

The CIA exam is a difficult exam. Only around 40% of candidates who sit for any part of the CIA exam will pass it. That said, you shouldn’t let the difficulty of the exam stop you from becoming a certified internal auditor.

CIA exam study tips

These CIA study strategies are essential no matter what stage of your studies you’re in or what topics you’re studying.

Practice using exam-emulating software

Being comfortable with the look and feel of the CIA exam will help relieve exam day stress. Additionally, knowing how the exam interface works will keep you from wasting valuable time when you sit for the exam.

Review material after you’ve “completed” it

The CIA exam is not an exam to cram for. You’ll need to really understand the topics in order to pass, and the best way to do that is to routinely review topics as you progress through your studies. This will take a topic from memorized to mastered and ensure that you have no trouble remembering material on exam day.

Stick to your study schedule

Be sure to regularly check in on your study progress and compare it to your study plan. If you’re falling behind, try to figure out why that is and adjust your plan accordingly. It isn’t a problem to adjust your schedule to account for needing longer to learn a tricky topic or having less time to study in a week than you’d thought.

The most important part is that you keep a plan and hold yourself to it. It is much better to adjust your plan than it is to abandon it completely.

Take short breaks during your study sessions

Sitting down for 8 hours of studying is demanding, and it doesn’t work all that well long term. It is much better to break that studying up into more manageable portions throughout your day. Study for an hour, take a short break (15-30 minutes), and then take a quiz on the topic you were studying. Then go back to another hour of study/review.

Breaking your studies into two-hour blocks will actually improve your long-term memory of topics. So even if you need to fit 8 hours of studies into one day, be sure to take a break every few hours.

CIA study tips – multiple-choice questions

Whether you’re studying for the multiple-choice questions on the CIA exam or trying to test your knowledge of a certain topic area, multiple-choice questions are going to play a big role in your exam prep. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these essential exam prep tools.

Learn from the answer explanations

Answer explanations are the biggest value-adding benefit that multiple-choice questions provide. It is important to know why an answer is right or wrong in order to make sure you’re learning the appropriate lesson from the question.

Sometimes you might select the right answer for the wrong reason or answer a question that isn’t actually being asked (incorrect answer choices are designed to capitalize on common mistakes), so take a moment to review the answer explanations once you’ve completed your quiz.

Avoid memorizing questions

If you start memorizing questions, you’re wasting your time. The CIA exam is non-disclosed, so the questions you see during your review will be different from your actual exam. Use a large test bank and randomize the answer choice order so you’re successfully engaging with the concepts and not simply answering by rote.

NOTE: It isn’t good enough to use a provider with a large bank of questions if most of them are on the same few topics. Make sure you have access to complete CIA content coverage. Many review providers allow you to select very specific topic areas, so be sure that the number of the questions in every area is large enough to provide variety.

Don't overly focus on new topics; cumulative quizzes will provide more long-term value

Avoid creating quizzes that only test the topics you most recently learned. Including content from areas you’ve already completed will improve your quiz variety and deepen your understanding of the topics.

Studies show that the best way to master a topic is through routine exposure over an extended period of time. Basically, preparing over a long period of time (e.g., weeks) is better than taking a lot of tests within a short period of time (e.g., hours or days).

Practice time management on all of your quizzes

Don’t wait to practice your time management strategy until right before you sit for the CIA exam. If you monitor the time spent on your practice quizzes, you’ll learn to speed up your test-taking abilities and become comfortable answering questions at your exam-day pace.

The best way to practice is to firmly limit the time spent on a 20-question quiz to 30 minutes. Once that time elapses, put your pen down and start your review. This may seem hard at first, and you might not get through all of the questions, but you’ll get used to working on a timer and this will make the CIA exam seem just like another study session.

Make use of short quizzes to avoid burning out and improve your retention

It can be tempting to create large quizzes to burn through your study time quickly or to take 100-question quizzes to emulate the CIA exam. This isn’t in your best interest though. Taking several short quizzes will help you much more than one large quiz for a variety of reasons. Gleim suggests taking 30-minute, 20-question quizzes as the foundation of your studies. Short quizzes allow you to

  • Better practice time management by allowing you to see results quickly.
  • Process the answer explanations and learn from them in your review while the questions are still fresh in your mind.
  • Vary content more by mixing in cumulative quizzes with your focused quizzes.
  • Turn your short-term memorization into long-term understanding by providing breaks between topic introduction.

CIA study tips – multiple-choice questions

Whether you’re studying for the multiple-choice questions on the CIA exam or trying to test your knowledge of a certain topic area, multiple-choice questions are going to play a big role in your exam prep. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these essential exam prep tools.

Learn from the answer explanations

Answer explanations are the biggest value-adding benefit that multiple-choice questions provide. It is important to know why an answer is right or wrong in order to make sure you’re learning the appropriate lesson from the question.

Sometimes you might select the right answer for the wrong reason or answer a question that isn’t actually being asked (incorrect answer choices are designed to capitalize on common mistakes), so take a moment to review the answer explanations once you’ve completed your quiz.

Avoid memorizing questions

If you start memorizing questions, you’re wasting your time. The CIA exam is non-disclosed, so the questions you see during your review will be different from your actual exam. Use a large test bank and randomize the answer choice order so you’re successfully engaging with the concepts and not simply answering by rote.

NOTE: It isn’t good enough to use a provider with a large bank of questions if most of them are on the same few topics. Make sure you have access to complete CIA content coverage. Many review providers allow you to select very specific topic areas, so be sure that the number of the questions in every area is large enough to provide variety.

Don't overly focus on new topics; cumulative quizzes will provide more long-term value

Avoid creating quizzes that only test the topics you most recently learned. Including content from areas you’ve already completed will improve your quiz variety and deepen your understanding of the topics.

Studies show that the best way to master a topic is through routine exposure over an extended period of time. Basically, preparing over a long period of time (e.g., weeks) is better than taking a lot of tests within a short period of time (e.g., hours or days).

Practice time management on all of your quizzes

Don’t wait to practice your time management strategy until right before you sit for the CIA exam. If you monitor the time spent on your practice quizzes, you’ll learn to speed up your test-taking abilities and become comfortable answering questions at your exam-day pace.

The best way to practice is to firmly limit the time spent on a 20-question quiz to 30 minutes. Once that time elapses, put your pen down and start your review. This may seem hard at first, and you might not get through all of the questions, but you’ll get used to working on a timer and this will make the CIA exam seem just like another study session.

Make use of short quizzes to avoid burning out and improve your retention

It can be tempting to create large quizzes to burn through your study time quickly or to take 100-question quizzes to emulate the CIA exam. This isn’t in your best interest though. Taking several short quizzes will help you much more than one large quiz for a variety of reasons. Gleim suggests taking 30-minute, 20-question quizzes as the foundation of your studies. Short quizzes allow you to

  • Better practice time management by allowing you to see results quickly.
  • Process the answer explanations and learn from them in your review while the questions are still fresh in your mind.
  • Vary content more by mixing in cumulative quizzes with your focused quizzes.
  • Turn your short-term memorization into long-term understanding by providing breaks between topic introduction.

CIA exam-day tips

Having a good plan for the CIA exam is key to your success. This includes not only mastering multiple-choice answering techniques but also making sure you don’t have any surprises from the CIA exam format or testing site.

Multiple-choice answering techniques

Multiple-choice questions are designed to not have obvious answers, ensuring that you truly know the topics tested. Guessing without some familiarity with a topic shouldn’t result in more than one in four questions correct, which isn’t going to earn a passing score. However, there are some test-taking techniques you can use to improve your odds and make the most of your preparations. Check out our free MCQ Webinar to watch these tips in practice!

Predict the answer

Right after you’ve read the question, your mind will be the most focused. Make a prediction about what the right answer should be before you read the answer choices. Once you have an answer in mind, scan the answer options to see if your answer is present.

NOTE: Even if your predicted answer is present, read the other options to ensure none of them are better.

Focus on what the question is asking

Read the question stem first, then go back and read the rest of the information provided to pull out what is needed. Don’t focus on all of the data that a question may provide until after you determine what the actual question is. This will help you filter out misleading information and save you valuable test-taking time.

NOTE: Be on the lookout for questions that ask for an exception. These questions will usually use words such as not, except, false, least, etc. These words will usually be bold on the CIA exam, but do not assume they all will be.

Read all of the answer choices carefully

Sometimes a question will have multiple answers that could be argued to be correct. Remember, you’re always looking for the answer choice that best answers the question.

In addition, sometimes reading the answer choices can clue you into what the question is asking. If all of the answer choices seem wrong based on your understanding of the question, you should probably re-read the question to make sure you’re not missing something.

Note: Watch for qualifying words like “always” or “never.” These words leave no room for exceptions and can often make an otherwise good answer incorrect because exceptions usually exist.

Answer every question on your first pass

You don’t lose points for answering questions wrong on the CIA exam, so never leave any questions blank. Even if you don’t know the answer, select one of the possible answers. This will at least give you a 25% chance of answering correctly, and if you’re able to first eliminate two answer choices through educated guessing, you can increase your odds to 50%.

If you don’t know the answer, use your educated guessing skills, select an answer choice, and then mark the question for later review. If you have time remaining after you’ve answered all questions, you can go back and review questions you’ve marked to see whether you’re able to determine the answer. If you still aren’t sure, stick with your first choice and don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. It’s important to go ahead and select an answer choice in case you don’t have time to review, as you want to make sure all questions are answered.

Don’t be afraid of making an educated guess

The CIA exam covers a large amount of information, and even a well-prepared CIA candidate is likely to encounter some questions they don’t know the answer to. In these cases, an educated guess can make all the difference.

Follow these steps to improve your educated guessing technique:

  • Rule out answers you think are incorrect right away. Many questions, including calculation questions, will have one or two answers that are easy to eliminate if you’re familiar with the material.
  • Ask yourself whether one of the remaining answers more completely addresses the question than the others. You can usually narrow it down to two choices. Pick the best one of the two.
  • Once you’ve narrowed your options down, trust your instincts. Unless you realize you read the question incorrectly or made a calculation error, your gut is usually correct. Talking yourself out of a correct answer is a common reason for selecting the wrong answer, so select the one that makes the most sense and move on. Use that time you would have spent deliberating where it can make a difference – analyzing the remaining questions.

Time management tips for the CIA exam

Part 1 of the CIA exam is a 2.5-hour exam and contains 125 multiple-choice questions. Parts 2 and 3 are each 2 hours and have 100 multiple-choice questions. Managing your time well is critical to passing the CIA exam. The only information you get during your exam is a clock providing the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining. There will be no guidance for breaks or time allocation within each section.

Make use of all of the time available

Time is your most valuable resource on the CIA exam, so don’t let any go to waste. Spending an extra few minutes reviewing flagged questions can help you ensure that you’re not missing points. Don’t leave the exam early.

Spend an average of 1 minute per multiple-choice question

Spending an average of 1 minute per question will leave you with 20-25 minutes to review your exam and revisit any questions you flagged.

Set benchmarks to keep track of time

Since the CIA exam displays all of your time in one large countdown, it is important to set benchmarks for your progress to make sure you’re staying on track. Writing down what time (according to the countdown) you should be at after every 20 questions is a great way to monitor your progress.

Our free CIA Exam Guide has guidance on using the Gleim Time Management System for your exam.

Practice in time-sensitive conditions

It isn’t good enough to wait until the CIA exam to try to limit the time you spend on a question. You need to practice under similar conditions.

  • Set a timer for 20 minutes and take a 20-question quiz.
  • When the timer goes off, review your progress and quiz score.
  • This is especially valuable on cumulative quizzes because it will ensure that you’re used to quickly recalling information from different sources and past study sessions.

Stay calm and eliminate surprises on the CIA exam

After all the preparation you’ve put into getting ready in time for your testing date, you’ll want to make sure exam day goes smoothly. To assist, we’re going to provide a few tips to help you get to your CIA exam stress-free and prepared to pass.

Stay hydrated

 
If you’re dehydrated, you’ll be prone to headaches and have a harder time thinking clearly. Drinking plenty of water the day before the exam will help you stay hydrated. Pace your water intake on the day of the exam so you don’t need to use too much time on bathroom breaks.

Use the day before the exam to relax

 
The day before your CIA exam is not the time to try to cram information in. If you want to study, keep it to a brief review of topics you’ve already learned, but you’ll benefit from allowing yourself some time to decompress.

Get a good night's sleep the night before your exam

 
You will have a difficult time concentrating if you are fatigued during the CIA exam. Some people experience pre-test anxiety that can make it difficult to fall asleep, so it is often a good idea to plan to go to bed a bit earlier than you normally would. If you fall right asleep and wind up waking up early, you’ve got time to make yourself a nice breakfast.

The best exam-day breakfasts will include slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread or cereal, combined with proteins such as eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt or the like. This will keep you feeling full while being able to give your brain the energy it needs to perform at its peak.

Leave early for the CIA exam

 
You should plan to arrive near your test center about an hour before your scheduled exam time. You must be at the testing center at least 30 minutes prior to your appointment. If you can find a nearby place to wait (such as a cafe), you will be able to reduce a bit of stress regarding arriving on time.

If you can, and if your test center is in a convenient location, drive to your test center before your actual exam. This will help alleviate exam-day nerves of trying to find your test center. Also, use Google or other search engines to know what traffic might be like during your drive. Another option is to drive on the same day of the week and at the same time as your appointment so you can compensate for delays. This will ensure that you are giving yourself plenty of time to arrive on time!